SpaceIL lunar lander makes first post-launch maneuvers

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WASHINGTON — As an Israeli-built lunar lander makes its first post-launch maneuvers, a Japanese company announced new partnerships in its plans to mount missions to the moon.

SpaceIL announced Feb. 24 that its Beresheet lander performed its first maneuver since being placed into a supersynchronous transfer orbit by a Falcon 9 Feb. 21. The 30-second burn of the spacecraft’s main thruster increased the perigee of its orbit around the Earth to 600 kilometers.

The spacecraft, carried as a secondary payload on a launch whose primary payload was an Indonesian communications satellite, is in an elliptical orbit whose apogee is 69,400 kilometers. That orbit will gradually widen in the coming weeks through a series of thruster burns until early April, when the spacecraft is captured into orbit around the moon. The spacecraft is scheduled to land on the moon April 11.

SpaceIL said the spacecraft was working well since launch, including a successful deployment of its landing legs, with the exception of its star trackers. Those instruments are suffering “high sensitivity to blinding by the sun’s rays in the star trackers,” the company said in a statement shortly after launch.

In the Feb. 24 statement about the orbital maneuver, SpaceIL said that the maneuver “took into account the problems that were identified in the star trackers after launch” but didn’t go into additional details about the problem. SpaceIL said the maneuver was a success.

SpaceIL originally developed the lander as a one-off project to compete for the Google Lunar X Prize, with most of the $100 million cost of the project funded from philanthropic sources. The venture continued with the project even though Google terminated its sponsorship of the competition and funding of the prize purse a year ago.

Israel Aerospace Industries, which built the lander, has shown an interest in commercializing the platform. In January it announced a partnership with German company OHB to make it available for potential future missions by the European Space Agency or other national space agencies.

Around the time the Falcon 9 carrying Beresheet lifted off, Japanese company ispace also announced milestones in the development of its lunar lander systems. The company announced an agreement with Japanese firm NGK Spark Plug to test its solid-state battery technology on its Hakuto-R lunar lander mission, scheduled for 2021.

The companies believe that solid-state batteries, an emerging technology, would be better suited to lunar missions than lithium-ion batteries that use liquid electrolytes that can freeze during the cold of the lunar night. “Stable power supply will be the most critical component to enable industry to take to the moon,” Takeshi Hakamada, chief executive of ispace, said in a statement.

In addition to that agreement, ispace announced two new corporate partners. One, Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Company, will work with ispace to develop a “lunar insurance service” intended to mitigate the risks associated with missions to the moon. The other, Japan Airlines Corporation, has previously invested in ispace and will provide a facility near Narita International Airport for the assembly, integration and testing of the HAKUTO-R spacecraft.